Excerpt from Minaret by Leila Aboulela, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Minaret

A Novel

by Leila Aboulela

Minaret
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    Sep 2005, 288 pages

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'That's it. I'm going to drive, I have nothing to do with you.'

He stirred a little. 'What?'

I sounded angry but I was also afraid. Afraid of his sleepiness that did not stem from any illness; afraid of his lethargy that I could not talk to anyone about.

'Where are the keys?'

'Ha?'

'Where are the car keys?' I yanked open his cupboard.

'No, in the pocket of my jeans . . . behind the door.'

I pulled out the keys; coins fell to the floor, a box of Benson & Hedges.

'See what will happen when Baba hears about this.'

'Put the air conditioner back on.'

'No.'

'Please Nana.'

His use of my nickname softened me a little. The empathy of twins gripped me and for a moment I was the one who was hot and unbearably sleepy. I switched on the air conditioner and marched out of the room.

I rolled up the window of the car so that dust wouldn't come in and the hot wind wouldn't mess up my hair. I wished I could feel like an emancipated young student, driving her own car with confidence. Was I not an emancipated young woman driving her own car to university?

In Khartoum only a minority of women drove cars and in university less than thirty per cent of students were girls – that should make me feel good about myself. But I preferred it when Omar was with me, when Omar was driving.

I missed him.

I drove slowly and was careful to indicate and careful not to knock down anyone on a bicycle. At the Gamhouriya Street traffic light a little girl knocked on my window, begging with tilted head and unfocused eyes. Because I was alone I gave her a note. If Omar had been with me, I would have given her a coin – he hated beggars.

She clutched the five pounds with slow disbelief and ran back to the pavement. When the light changed to green, I drove on. From the rear-view mirror, I could see her engulfed by other children and a few desperate adults.

Dust and the start of a fight.

My hands were sweaty when I knocked on the door of lecture room 101. I was fifteen minutes late. I could hear Dr Basheer inside delivering another chapter on Accounting, my least favourite subject, but my father wanted Omar to study Business and, after years in a girls' school, I wanted to be with Omar. I knocked again louder and gathered courage to turn the knob. It was locked. So Dr Basheer had been true to his announcement that no latecomers would be allowed in his lectures. I turned and walked to the cafeteria.

My favourite cafeteria was at the back of the university. It overlooked the Blue Nile but the water couldn't be seen because of the dense trees. The morning shade and the smell of the mango trees began to soothe me.

I sat at a table and pretended to read my notes. They meant nothing and filled me with emptiness. I could foresee the hours I would have to spend memorizing what I couldn't understand. When I looked up I noticed that Anwar Al-Sir was sitting at the next table. He was in his last year and known for the straight As he got. Today he was alone with his cigarette and glass of tea.

In a campus where most were scruffy, he always wore clean shirts, was clean-shaven and his hair was cut short even though longer hairstyles were in fashion. Omar had his hair just like Michael Jackson on the album cover of Off the Wall.

Anwar Al-Sir was a member of the Democratic Front, the students' branch of the Communist Party. He probably hated me because I had heard him speaking in a nadwa with wit and scorn of the bourgeoisie. Landowning families, capitalists, the aristocracy; they were to blame, he said, for the mess our country was in. I talked to Omar about this but Omar said I was being too personal. Omar did not have time for the likes of Anwar; he had his own set of friends. They lent each other videos of Top of The Pops and they all intended to go to Britain one day. Omar believed we had been better off under the British and it was a shame that they left. I made sure that he didn't write these ideas in any of his History or Economics essays. He would surely fail because all the books and lecturers said that colonialism was the cause of our underdevelopment.

From Minaret by Leila Aboulela.  Copyright Leila Aboulela 2004.  All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Press.

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